Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 4th Bt., and all aspects of his patronage of Robert Adam have been closely examined in recent years. In particular, his purchases of plate and his use of Adam as a designer of silver have been the subject of extensive research by Oliver Fairclough, curator of the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, whose findings were published in The Burlington Magazine in June 1995. ('Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn and Robert Adam: Commission for Silver 1768-80', pp. 376-386).
It is clear that from an early age Sir Watkin was determined to patronize the leading artists and craftsmen of his day. Having succeeded to the title and the extensive family estates in north Wales and England at the age of six months, he enjoyed an unprecedented income, some £27,000 annually, on attaining his majority in 1770. At first Sir Watkin patronized the royal silversmith, Thomas Heming, spending nearly £2,000 with him between 1765 and 1773. Among his purchases from Heming were the magnificent silver-gilt toilet service commissioned for his first wife Lady Henrietta Somerset, in 1769, and the well-known silver-gilt punch bowl designed by Robert Adam and made in 1771, both of which are now in the National Museum of Wales.
About this time Sir Watkin engaged the Adam brothers to design a town house for him in the purest neo-classical style at 20 St. James's Square. Over the course of the next five years the brothers provided a wealth of designs not merely for the architecture and decoration of the house, but also for its furniture and fittings including over twenty designs for silver. These drawings, together with approximately eighty others, are in the collection of the Sir John Soane Museum, London, and have recently been the subject of extensive study by Michael Snodin. The St. James's Square silver designs together form an entire dinner service in the mature Adam style, containing elements of the overall decorative scheme of the house. This "Great Table Service" comprised two pairs of soup tureens, candelabra, salt cellars, sauce boats, dishes and plates, much of it with the same ram's heads and decorative medallions that appear on the furniture and plasterwork designed for the "eating room".
The idea of a complete dinner service with a unity of form and decoration is a development of the mid-Georgian period. Radical changes in the way in which people sat down to eat during the period had also created a demand for a host of new components such as soup tureens, sauce boats and centrepieces. Robert Adam's service for Sir Watkin goes a step further and integrates itself into the decorative scheme of the town house.
The existence of the drawings in the Soane Museum have made it possible for much of the "Great Table Service" to be re-assembled, at least through photographs, in recent years. The service had been dispersed at auction by descendants of the 4th baronet in 1946. Two of the salt cellars, which are supported on dolphins, are now in Nottingham Castle Museum, as are two of the plates. The four candelabra are in the collection of Lloyds of London, while the matching pair of sauceboats to the present examples are in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, has in recent years acquired the silver-gilt dessert service and one of the pair of smaller soup tureens as well as the larger pair of soup tureens. (Christie's, New York, 17 April, 1996, lot 153).
The present pair of sauceboats, as well as most of the rest of the service, bear the maker's mark IC which has traditionally been attributed to John Carter, though the mark would appear in the volume of largeworker's marks entered at Goldsmiths' Hall between 1758-1773 which is missing, making a positive attribution impossible. Research by Oliver Fairclough into Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn's papers, preserved in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, has shown that the "Great Table Service" was supplied by Joseph Creswell, described as a "toyman" who was one of the first tenants of the Adam brothers' Adelphi. Cresswell is recorded by Grimwade as having entered a mark as a smallworker in 1767, while Heal refers to him as a 'goldsmith, corner of Adelphi, Strand and the Parliamentary Report of 1773 refers to him as a goldworker. William Wynn's poor paying habits resulted in Creswell becoming bankrupt shortly after the completion of the commission.
That the commission was placed with Creswell rather the Thomas Heming, the royal goldsmith, is perhaps explained by the surviving bills and correspondence. It is clear that by 1773 Heming was pressing Sir Watkin for payment for the silver he had purchased since 1768 and Sir Watkin had no choice but to look elsewhere for a supplier who would be pleased to offer generous credit to such a distinguished client. A letter from Samuel Sidebotham, Sir Watkin's servant, to the agent Mr. Chambre on February 3, 1774, observes, "Mr. Heming wrote Sir Watkin a very huffing letter this day about his money. Sir W w'd be glad it was discharged as soon as you can, he has found out that Mr. Creswell is making the new Service, also I think he w'd not have wrote in the manner he did..." (quoted in O. Fairclough, op. cit., p. 385). Nevertheless, Creswell could not avoid going bankrupt in 1775. Sir Watkin, having spent so lavishly on his house in Wales as well as on the townhouse in London, had debts amounting to some £100,000 by 1776.
Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn is perhaps one of the most significant patrons of the middle years of the eighteenth century. His single-minded quest for excellence found a perfect partner in Robert Adam and the finished interiors of 20 St. James's Square. The "Great Table Service" laid out in the "eating room" must have represented the most complete expression of Adam's neo-classicism.
AN IMPORTANT PAIR OF GEORGE III SILVER SAUCE-BOATS FROM THE WATKIN WILLIAMS-WYNN SERVICE ORDERED FOR 20 ST. JAMES'S SQUARE
THE PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTOR
late 18th Century, music, sauce boats & tureens, All other categories of objects, bowls, silver, Great Britain, Georgian
Oval and on a spreading gadrooned foot, the lower body part fluted, with a guilloche border and a beaded egg and dart rim, with a ribbon tied vine handle, engraved with a coat-of-arms, each marked underneath, further engraved underneath with a number and scratchweight 'No. 3 23=1½' and 'No. 4 23=3½' 8½ in. (21.6 cm.) wide 44 oz. (1,366 gr.)